Date of Award

8-2007

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

Ashton, Susanna

Committee Member

Paul , Catherine

Committee Member

Rivlin , Elizabeth

Abstract

This thesis examines Claude McKay's The Cycle (c. 1943) in relationship to how McKay's other sonnets have been received by scholars and the ways in which this collection speaks to fallacies concerning didactic art, African American views on the British literary tradition, and the literary merit of McKay's later poetry post Catholic conversion. Much of the criticism on McKay's other sonnets deals primary with the question of whether the sonnet form is an appropriate vehicle for such mutinous and didactic commentary. Critics tend to answer this question in one of two ways. Some assert that because the relationship between form and content is so strained, McKay's sonnets then become a space of political protest, using the dominate culture's most revered verse form against them, which oversimplifies his choice. Others would simply write-off the decision as poor artistic judgment on McKay's part, noting the restrictive nature of the sonnet and suggesting that a 'freer' verse form would have been more effective in relaying his messages of political and social frustration. Few critics delve into the ways in which his sonnets maintain what scholars call 'sonnetness' and draw from a long-standing sonnet tradition. Using The Cycle (c. 1943) as the primary text of investigation, I have used historical and theoretical approaches to the sonnet individually and a sonnet sequence collectively to demonstrate McKay's commitments to the integrity of the sonnet form. McKay adopts Petrarch as his model for sequence writing. In undertaking a lyric sonnet sequence, McKay is able to address the fallacies that have marred his poetic career up until this point, also anticipating future criticisms about his religious conversion. McKay makes explicit statements against the idea that his conversion has been the source of a diminished spirit. McKay's decision to use the lyric sonnet sequence, in what proved to be the only fully realized sequence written by the poet, invites readers of his poetry to see a developing cycle marked by his poetic career that is unique and separate from his career as a novelist. If poetry gives us the greatest insight into the artist himself, McKay, through the authority of the narrating I tells his readers exactly what bearing his experiences have on his poetry.

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